Eliezer ben Jose

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Rabbinical Eras

Eliezer ben Jose (Heb. Eliezer ben Yose HaGelili) was a Jewish rabbi who lived in Judea in the 2nd century. He was the son of Jose the Galilean, and is regarded as a Tanna of the fourth generation. He was a pupil of Rabbi Akiba (Ber. 63b; Cant. R. ii. 5; Eccl. R. xi. 6; see Eliezer ben Jacob). While he cultivated both the Halakha (Sotah v. 3; Tosefta, Sanhedrin i. 2; Sanh. 3b) and the aggadah, his fame rests mainly on his work in the latter field.

Career and teachings[edit]

Indeed, with reference to his homiletics, later generations said, "Wherever thou meetest a word of R. Eliezer ben R. Jose HaGelili in the Haggadah, make thine ear as a funnel (Hul. 89a; Yer. Kid. i. 61d; Pesik. R. x. 38b; compare Jastrow, "Dict." s.v. ). For, even where he touched on the Halakha, he always brought exegesis to bear upon the matter. Thus, arguing that after legal proceedings are closed the beit din may not propose a compromise, he says, "The judge who then brings about a settlement is a sinner; and he who blesses him is a blasphemer, of whom it may be said (Psalms x. 3) ' ["The compromiser he blesseth: the Lord he contemneth"; A. V. "Blesseth the covetous, whom the Lord abhorreth"]. The Law must perforate the mountain (i.e., must not be set aside under any considerations); for thus the Bible says (Deut. i. 17), 'Ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God's'" (Tosef., Sanh. l.c.; Sanh. 6b; Yer. Sanh. i. 18b). He compiled a set of hermeneutic rules as guides in interpreting the Scriptures (the Baraita of the Thirty-two Rules, which see below), some of which are adaptations of those of his predecessors, and insofar applicable to Halakha as well as to aggadah. Those specifically homiletical are based on syntactical or phraseological or similar peculiarities of the Biblical texts that constitute the substance of the Midrashim.

Like his colleagues, at the close of the first academic session after the Bar Kokba insurrection, Eliezer publicly thanked the people of Usha. He said, "The Bible relates (II Sam. vi. 12), 'The Lord hath blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all that pertaineth unto him, because of the Ark of the Covenant.' Is this not very significant? If, for merely dusting and cleaning the Ark, which neither ate nor drank, Obed-edom was blessed, how much more deserving of blessings are they who have housed the scholars, have furnished them with meat and drink, and have otherwise shared with them their goods!" (Ber. 63b). Elsewhere (Cant. R. ii. 5) this is attributed to another speaker, while Eliezer is credited with the following: "It is recorded (II Sam. xv. 6), 'Saul said unto the Kenites . . . Ye showed kindness unto all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt.' Was it not to Moses alone to whom Jethro ["the Kenite"; see Judges i. 16, iv. 11] had shown kindness? But the Bible here implies the rule that whoso deals kindly with any one of the spiritual heads of Israel, to him it is accounted as if he had done so to the whole people" (compare Lev. R. xxxiv. 8). With reference to the Biblical statement (Josh. xxiv. 32), "The bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem," he remarks, "Was it not Moses who brought up those bones (Ex. xiii. 19)? But this teaches that where one starts a good deed and fails to bring it to a finish, another party performing the unfinished part, the whole deed is credited to the latter" (Gen. R. lxxxv. 3; compare Sotah 13b; Tan., 'Ekeb. 6). He counsels that one should advance or postpone a journey in order to enjoy the company of a good man; and likewise to avoid the company of a bad one (Tosef., Shab. xvii. [xviii.] 2, 3; ib. 'Ab. Zarah i. 17, 18).

Baraita of the Thirty-Two Rules[edit]

A Baraita in the introduction to the Midrash HaGadol giving the thirty-two hermeneutic rules according to which the Tanakh is interpreted. Abul-Walid ibn Janah is the oldest authority who drew upon this Baraita, but he did not mention it by name. Rashi makes frequent use of it in his commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud. He either briefly calls it the thirty-two rules (Hor. 3a) or designates it as the "Baraita (or sections ) of R. Eliezer ben Jose HaGelili" (Gen. ii. 8; Ex. xiv. 24). Also the Karaite Judah Hadassi, who incorporated it in his Eshkol HaKofer, recognized in it the work of this R. Eliezer.

It has not been preserved in an independent form; and knowledge of it has been gathered only from the recension transmitted in the methodological work "Keritot," by Samson of Chinon. The beginning of the Baraita in this recension reads as follows: "Whenever you come across the words of R. Eliezer ben Jose HaGelili, make a funnel of your ear." Though this sentence already existed in the Baraita as known to Hadassi (see Bacher, in "Monatsschrift," xl. 21), it is naturally a later addition taken from the Talmud (Ḥul. 89a); but it shows that the Baraita of the Thirty-two Rules was early regarded as the work of Eliezer ben Jose HaGelili. There are strong grounds for the supposition that the opening sentence of the Baraita ran: "R. Eliezer, the son of R. Jose the Galilean, said." This is the reading of Joshua ha-Levi and Isaiah Horowitz (see Bloch, p. 53); and it is believed that the name of the author did not drop out until the addition of the sentence from the Talmud. Consequently, no adequate reasons exist for doubting the authorship of R. Eliezer.

Distinction must, however, be made between two different constituent elements of the Baraita. The enumeration of the thirty-two hermeneutic rules in the first section constitutes the real Baraita as composed by R. Eliezer; and the explanations of each rule in the following thirty-two sections form, as it were, a Gemara to the real Baraita. In these thirty-two sections sayings are cited of the tannaim Akiba, Ishmael, Jose, Nehemiah, Nehorai, Rabbi, Hiyya, and of the amoraim Johanan and Jose ben Hanina. Although these names, especially the last two, show that portions of the Baraita were interpolated long after Eliezer ben Jose, yet no general conclusions may be drawn from it with regard to the whole work. The terminology is prevailingly tannaitic, even in the second portion. Bacher ("Terminologie der Jüdischen Schriftauslegung," p. 101) correctly remarks that the exclusively tannaitic expression "zeker le-dabar" is found at the end of section ix. (compare also the archaic phrase "hashomea' sabur" for which "at sabur" is usually said). The second part, therefore, leaving later interpolations out of consideration, may also have sprung from the tannaitic period, probably from the school of R. Eliezer. It is noteworthy that the old scholars make citations from the Baraita that are not found in its present form, thus casting a doubt upon the correctness of the present recension (see Reifmann, pp. 6, 7).

Hermeneutics of the Baraita[edit]

The thirty-two rules are described as those applied in haggadic interpretations ( is the right reading and not ). This entirely characterizes the method of the Baraita; for although the most important halakic rules of interpretation that originated in the schools of Akiba and of Ismael (Hillel) are incorporated in it, the Baraita deals principally with the syntax, style, and subject-matter of the Bible. Such treatment is of first importance for the interpretation of the Scriptures; but in the Halakah it is of subordinate value. The Baraita, then, written about 150, may be regarded as the earliest work on Biblical hermeneutics, since Philo's fantastic allegories can hardly be regarded as such.

Following are two examples from the Baraita, which illustrate its method. Section ix. (on the elliptical phraseology of the Bible) says: "I Chron. xvii. 5 reads, 'I have gone from tent to tent, and from tabernacle' . It should read: 'and from tabernacle to tabernacle' ('u-mimishkan el mishkan'); but the Bible here employs ellipsis." Section xxi. says that sometimes a clause that ought to stand at the end of sentences, conveying one idea, is interposed between them. Thus, the correct place for verse 17 of Psalm xxxiv. would be after 18. According to the last rule, whole chapters of the Bible should be transferred. Thus, Gen. xv. chronologically precedes xiv. These examples suffice to show that in Palestine scholars early began to devote themselves to a rational Bible exegesis, although free play was at the same time yielded to aggadic interpretation.

Resources[edit]

  • Jastrow, Marcus and Louis Ginzburg. "Baraita of the Thirty-Two Rules". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906; which contains the following bibliography:
    • Bacher, Agada der Tannaiten, ii. 293-298;
    • Bloch, in Kobak's Jeschurun, ix. 47-58 (a polemic against a treatise by Berliner on the Baraita. This treatise is not mentioned by name, and is not otherwise known to the writer of the present article);
    • Wolf Einhorn, Sefer Midrash Tannaim, 1838 (an extract from this work occurs in his introduction to his commentary on Rabbah, Wilna, 1878);
    • Hildesheimer, in the Supplement to the third Program of the Rabbinical College of Eisenstadt, 1869;
    • Katzenellenbogen, Netibot 'Olam, 1st ed., 1822, and 2d ed., with annotations by M. and S. Straschun, 1858;
    • Königsberger, in Monatsblätter für Vergangenheit und Gegenwart, 1890-91, pp. 3–10, 90-94, and the Hebrew Supplement, pp. 1–16;
    • Reifmann, Meshib Dabar, 1866.
  • Schechter, Solomon and S. Mendelsohn. "Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili". Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, 1901–1906; which contains the following bibliography:
    • Bacher, Ag. Tan. ii. 292 et seq.;
    • Brüll, Mebo ha-Mishnah, i. 212;
    • Frankel, Darke ha-Mishnah, p. 186;
    • Heilprin, Seder ha-Dorot, ii., s.v.;
    • Weiss, Dor, ii. 167;
    • Zacuto, Yuḥasin, ed. Filipowski, p. 57a.
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.